September 05, 2023

Academic Success Program provides support to UAB medical students

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As part of Heersink School of Medicine’s Medical Student Services, the Academic Success Program provides personal, professional, and educational support to UAB medical students. Each semester, the Academic Success team invites students to participate in the variety of tutoring and learning services they offer. Students have access to the program all four years of medical school.

Brook Hubner, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Medical Education, directs the Academic Success Program. Hubner is supported by a team of three Learning Specialists and more than 100 Peer Educators who meet individually with students and, using data from learning science, help students determine effective academic strategies. However, “providing this assistance is not always about simply changing study strategies,” Hubner says. Sometimes, factors in students’ lives impact their academic performance, so the team must identify those factors and suggest ways to overcome them.

The three Learning Specialists in the Academic Success Program are Fahmida Bratina, M.A., Laura Johnson, Ed.S, and Paton Roden, Ph.D. In addition to the individual appointments they complete with students, the Learning Specialists and Peer Educators also help facilitate group learning. Study Groups, for example, provide opportunities for MS1 students to sign up and be paired with an MS2 student who can check in on them regularly. “They have a second-year student who they meet with once a week to check in, provide support, but not just academic,” Johnson explains. “It’s encouragement and support to help students navigate their first year of med school.”

laura johnsonLarge group sessions also provide an environment backed by learning science. Johnson notes that in these settings, “peer educators use question-based strategies and incorporate/consolidate topics taught in class to help students identify gaps in their knowledge. The goal is to have students work together to answer questions in order to reinforce their understanding of the topic.” As with all the services and activities within the Academic Success Program, the intention is to equip students with the tools to successfully complete their coursework but to also teach them skills that will help in their professional and personal lives.

Bratina echoes this goal when reflecting on her approach to student support. “I take a holistic approach aimed at gathering information about a student’s daily routine, clafahmidass participation (including in-class vs. remote), approach to learning, strategies for self-testing, and self-care,” she says. In sessions with a student, Bratina uses open-ended questions that allow the student to self-assess and identify areas that need tweaking. “I initiate a collaborative discussion of strategy options and the rationales for each strategy, which allows the student to leave with a self-discovered plan for improvement.”

Roden also sees her role of a Learning Specialist as a connection piece for students overcoming the challenges of medical school. “We aim to connect with students and be a person they can come to for academic advice and challenges,” she notes. “We provide active learning strategies that are proven effective based on the science of learning, such as daily retrieval practice, spaced repetition, and self-explanation. Our hope is that students apply these strategies as they progress through pre-clinical work and approach their first big exam, Step 1.”

The Step 1 exam represents a crucial time for medical students, as it must be passed before students can enter their clinical training. The Academic Success team provides class-wide Step 1 preparation for MS2s. Through one-on-one counseling and study groups, Learning Specialists equip students with learning strategies and test-taking methods to help them pass this important milestone.

paton rodenAfter the Step 1 exam, students still find a support system in the Academic Success Program. In the process of preparing for Step 2, the Learning Specialists provide necessary guidance as they help students apply preclinical study and exam skills to their clinical exams. Through counseling sessions, students assess the steps they will need to complete and how they will need to score to remain competitive in the area they want to apply. The Academic Success Program works alongside Todd Peterson, M.D., assistant dean for Students, who advises students on residency competitiveness through the Careers in Medicine program. Hubner’s office and Peterson collaborate on seminars to help students with Step 2 scheduling and building out their career plans.

Providing support from the first year of medical school all the way to the fourth year, Hubner and the Academic Success team connect on individual levels with their students, wanting them to succeed in all areas of their lives, from academics to personal. They believe that even though the transition from undergraduate education to medical school poses increased challenges and expectations for students, those factors become more manageable when students have access to a support system like the one provided in Heersink School of Medicine.